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Home » Understanding Your Camera: Nikon Button Layout & Key Settings | (List)

Understanding Your Camera: Nikon Button Layout & Key Settings | (List)

Nikon is one of the most well-known camera makers globally, and they’re trusted by professional and amateur photographers alike. Their cameras are known for their spot-on automatic white balance and features like its Active D-Lighting—more on those in a bit. 

If you’ve got your first Nikon camera, you might feel intimidated by all the buttons and settings. To help you out, we created this comprehensive overview of a Nikon button layout so you can better understand yours.

Nikon Camera Basics

Nikon has a wide range of cameras, and the specifics of each one vary depending on what model you have. However, no matter what camera body you’re working with, you can expect to have certain basic features you should get familiar with. 

  1. On/Off— You probably already guessed it, but this is how you turn the camera on and off. 
  2. Command Dial— Rotate this dial to select settings after choosing specific actions like shutter speed and ISO. 
  3. Menu Button— Takes you to the shooting menu. 
  4. Playback Button— This allows you to view the photos you’ve taken. 
  5. Information Edit Button— Displays the settings of your photo, like aperture and shutter speed. 
  6. Live View Button— Click this button to use the LCD screen to compose your photos instead of your viewfinder. 
  7. Multi-selector— This option allows you to customize how your photos play back. Choose between full-frame, thumbnail, or zoom in and out. 
  8. Mode Dial— Rotate this to select your exposure mode. 
  9. Shutter Button—The button you push to take photos. 
  10. Lens Release Button— Hold this in to release your lens from the camera body.
  11. Auto/Manual Focus Switch— Use this to switch between auto or manual mode. 
  12. Vibration Reduction Switch— Turn this on to reduce camera shake during shooting.

Nikon Key Settings

Now that you know your Nikon camera’s basic design and functions, it’s time to learn about the key settings. Understanding these will help you be more deliberate with your photography.

  1. White Balance— Your white balance is essential to photography.
  2. ISO— Your ISO setting determines the brightness of your photos. 
  3. Histogram— Your histogram isn’t a setting you control.  Still, it does give you a lot of information about the lighting and colors in your images through a graph.
  4. Focus Lock— Use this when you need to focus on off-center subjects. 
  5. Burst Mode— Burst mode is when you shoot continuous images instead of one single shot. 
  6. Focus Tracking— This is used when you want to track a moving subject. 
  7. Vibration Reduction— Choose this to reduce camera shake. This is best when shooting without a tripod. 

Nikon Exposure Modes

Exposure refers to the brightness of your photos, specifically the amount of light that reaches your light sensor. The less light there is, the darker your exposure will be. The more light there is, the brighter your images will turn out.

To control the exposure, you can adjust the aperture settings along with the ISO and shutter speed. But there are also pre-programmed settings you can choose from depending on what and when you’re shooting. 

  • P (Programmed Auto Mode)— Select this when you want to shoot in automatic mode.
  • M (Manual Mode)—  Allows you to shoot in manual mode. 
  • A (Aperture Priority Auto)— This allows you to manually select the aperture, but your camera will automatically select the shutter speed. 
  • S (Shutter Priority Auto)— Choose this when you want control over the shutter speed, but the camera will automatically choose the aperture setting.
  • No Flash— Choose this if you don’t want flash the flash to go off while shooting in automatic mode.
  • Portrait— The automatic setting if you’re taking portraits. 
  • Landscape— This automatic setting has a wider depth of field that works best for landscape photography.
  • Child— A good automatic setting capturing children since they’re known for being active. 
  • Sports— The best automatic setting for sports and action because it will have a higher shutter speed
  • Close Up— The aperture in this option has a narrower depth of field for more details during up-close shots. 
  • Night Portrait— This automatic mode works best at night and will have higher ISO and shutter speed settings. 
  • Scene— This mode automatically selects optimal settings based on the setting. So the ISO, shutter speed, and aperture will be tailored to whether you’re shooting landscape, portraits, closeups, etc. 

Nikon Shooting Modes

Now that you know the basic features of your Nikon camera, it’s time to learn about the shooting modes. As we mentioned above, you can choose between automatic and manual. 


When you’re shooting in automatic mode, your camera does a lot of the work for you. It chooses the essential settings like aperture, ISO, shutter speed, and white balance based on your environment. New photographers commonly start out shooting automatically because of this. 


When you shoot in manual mode, you pick your settings, allowing you to customize your images and get the best results. Mastering manual photography is crucial to understand how your camera works and gives more control over the end result. 

Nikon Shooting Menu

The shooting menu is another key element you should understand in order to master your Nikon. 

  • Storage— You can use this to change where your photos will be saved on your SD card, and you can rename folders too. 
  • Reset shooting menu— This will reset all the settings in your shooting menu back to the factory default settings. 
  • Image quality— Go to this menu to choose the format of your picture files. You can pick between JPEG or RAW or set it up to save a copy of each.
  • Image size— Digital photos are measured in pixels, and this is where you can select the size of your photos. Larger files will have higher quality, but they’ll take more space. 
  • ISO sensitivity settings— Use this to adjust your ISO settings. A lot of Nikon cameras have a button specifically for this, but it’s usually featured in the menu too. 
  • Set picture control— Change these settings to control how your images are processed. 
  • Color space— You can change the color space to choose how many color tones come through in your images. This matters depending on how your final images will be shown. In general, like for standard printing or websites, it’s okay to stick with sRGB, but for professional or commercial printing, then Adobe RGB is best.
  • Active D-lighting— This setting helps more details come through in your images without losing the natural contrast of highlights and shadows. 

Build Your Photography Foundation

Understanding your Nikon camera is your basic foundation as a photographer. The more comfortable you are navigating the different buttons, switches, dials, and menus, the more confident you’ll feel when you’re shooting. Keep building on your knowledge with our Photo Basics for 2021! Think you’re ready for the next step? Start a Portfolio build today on Anthology and share with your friends and family!

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